Posted in PRO TOUR KHANS OF TARKIR - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 12, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

The demise of control has been greatly exaggerated. Though it's not going to be the runaway success of the tournament, it has a solid place at the table, and if you don't plan to face it, you might just lose to it. This is exactly what No. 5 Ivan Floch and No. 6 Stanislaw Cifka thought. So many pros have said they didn't think control was anything, showing up with a solid control deck was a surprise. Floch used that to his benefit. Their big, scary Blue-Black deck was full of creature removal and card advantage. But he wasn't the only one who got the control memo.

2010 Player of the Year, Brad Nelson, had a control plan too. But unlike Floch, he had the whole thing in his sideboard. What starts as a Red-White aggressive deck with Hordeling Outburst, Goblin Rabblemaster, and Lightning Strikes, turns into a deck with Suspension Fields, End Hostilities, and Chained to the Rocks.

Though this is a great plan against most midrange decks, it's the worst against a big Blue-Black Control deck. Nelson admitted that his deck is gas against just about everything in the format, except for a giant control-y beast like Floch's.

5th-ranked Ivan Floch and Brad Nelson's match-up represent the classic clash of control against aggro.

"Even with Esper Control, they can't play enough Bile Blights; but with Blue-Black, every card they play is just the worst for me." But Nelson's deck still has an okay game because Blue-Black's answers are so narrow. With a mix of low- and high-cost burn, tokens, Planeswalkers, and threatening single creatures, Floch must have the right answers at the right time. The old "there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers," is never more alive than in this exact match-up.

The Games

The first game, Nelson would have to pressure hard. His sideboard transformation plan is woefully inadequate against Floch so he would just have to swing away until something stuck.

Goblin Rabblemaster was cast—it was hit by Bile Blight. Hordeling Outburst was cast—it got hit by a Bile Blight. But the third one, the third one stayed up.

"Got a third Bile Blight?" was Nelson's question as he resolved a second Hordeling Outburst. In a couple turns the 1/1s were joined by a Sarkhan which caught Floch tapped out, after a Prognostic Sphinx was cast. It and a token died shortly after, thanks to a Hero's Downfall and a block, respectively, but not before making the scores 20-12 in Nelson's favor.

Nelson had been keeping the pressure on, and still had some presence on the board, but the end was nigh. When Brad had one card left in his hand, during his attack step, Floch cast a Dig Through Time and found a Drown in Sorrow and a Hero's Downfall. Two more right answers to the threats Nelson was presenting.

When you have the answers, you can sit comfortably behind your blue and black lands.

At 8 life Floch tried to sweep away Nelson's two goblin tokens and his Seeker of the Way, but the last card was a Lightning Strike. It domed Floch to 5 and pumped the Seeker to 3/3, surviving the -2/-2 from the black Sorcery. Thanks to a second Prognostic Sphinx, Floch could still attack and defend simultaneously, but the 5 life was precarious.

Floch had two Disdainful Strokes in his hand, but if the burn drawn was not Stoke the Flames, there was nothing to do. He was now attacking with both Sphinxes, furiously making sure he could find some insurance plan to not die to a flurry of burn.

Luckily for Floch, in the process of scrying for six each attack step, he just attacked Nelson to death. Though Nelson had been able to pressure constantly, he didn't have the last few cards. It all came down to the Dig Through Time that found two new answers to Brad's often-endless threats.

Ivan Floch 1 – Brad Nelson 0

"I was hoping there weren't many of those in the room," Nelson said as he pointed to Floch's Bile Blight. "Hordeling Outburst's real good against Jeskai, though."

In the early turns, the second game played out much like the first. Brad Nelson played out a series of threats and Ivan Floch replied with answers. Hordeling Outburst hit a Bile Blight; Chandra, Pyromaster caught Disdainful Stroke; Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker had a Hero's Demise. When the board was clear, Floch cast a Despise revealing the two last cards in Nelson's hand—two Lightning Strikes. Nelson was out of proactive threats.

After that, there was a stall—in the action alone, not in the game. In fact, about six or seven turns in a row went draw-go from both players. This is exactly what Floch wanted, but it was also what Nelson wanted. He needed all the threats he could muster.

Eventually when he hit the six-mana mark, Nelson tapped out for an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Floch, with a bevy of mana untapped, flipped through his hand and thought.

"I hate when a control player does this. It's not that they can't deal with it, they just have so much to deal with it they're not sure what to do." Nelson shifted in his seat, waiting for how Floch would deal with it.

"Well, I do have six cards in my hand," Floch responded. This is an inevitable result of going draw-go with a control deck.

When Nelson got the turn back, untapped, cast a Monastery Swiftspear, and swung that 1/2 right in against Floch's freshly minted Prognostic Sphinx. To some, that play might have looked odd.

"Huh." Floch paused. Because of the Sphinx conjuring, Floch only had two untapped lands. This was likely Brad's best change to resolve some burn and pump spells. After some thought the Sphinx went in front of it.

Nelson cast Titan's Strength that was countered, but he did resolve a Stoke the Flames, both saving the Swiftspear, and taking Floch down to 12. It cost some cards, but it was a net win. This was how Nelson would have to fight the rest of the game—whenever Floch tapped down, throw all the instant-speed removal at him that you can.

One of Nelson's strengths as a former Player of the Year: knowing how to play through a wall of reactive spells.

As Floch attacked with the Sphinx to slowly take down Nelson, his opponent would toss a spell to a Negate to resolve two more. He was resolving about two of every three burn spells.

This was the moment of truth. It was 13-5 when Floch tapped down for a second Sphinx. There was two mana left for the Slovak. He knew that it was only a matter of time before Nelson drew enough burn to toe-tag him, so he had to take a chance. Floch left enough mana open for at least one counterspell, even though it wasn't there. Because Nelson was low on mana, it was likely he would only be able to cast two burns spells at Floch's face, if he even had them at all. So he played as if he had the counterspells with his hand was full of creature removal.

Nelson took the tapped-land bait and fired off burn spells worth more than Floch's remaining life total. He died in short order.

Ivan Floch 1 – Brad Nelson 1

Floch knew this match-up is closer than he would like, but he was pretty sure he had the advantage. In this instance especially, considering in Game 3, Floch was on the play—a half-turn ahead. He would have one more mana to respond to Nelson's red onslaught.

And an onslaught it was: Monastery Swiftspear led into a Magma Jet which had Floch starting his third turn at 15 life. Though he knew his opponent's hand, thanks to DespiseSarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Seeker of the Way, Titan's Strength, and a Mountain (he removed a Chandra, Pyromaster)—fighting the hand, known or not, would be difficult.

Right after the Despise, Nelson drew a Goblin Rabblemaster Floch didn't know about. After Floch cast a Bile Blight in his main phase to kill the Swiftspear (afraid of two non-creatures spells on Nelson's turn), he was promptly punished when Nelson untapped and played a Goblin Rabblemaster. Though the papa died to a Hero's Demise the next turn, he left behind the baby Goblin token. And let me tell you, that baby accepts a Titan's Strength with the best of them.

Floch was at 9 when he tapped out for a Prognostic Sphinx, as Brad added three more Goblins to the table. These exact two spells happened again the next turn for an all out war.

"Do you have the answer?" Nelson said, as he feigned scooping up his cards. Floch did not have the answer to the 1/1s. However, he did have a Dig Through Time and a Prognostic Sphinx. Neither of which would answer the Goblin threat directly, but they could work in concert.

Floch had five cards in his graveyard and five land in play. He attacked with both Sphinxes so he could scry for six. After putting a lot of cards on the bottom and a couple cards near the top, he discarded a Prognostic Sphinx. This put the sixth card in his graveyard and cast Dig Through Time for two mana (and six delved cards). Finding the Drown in Sorrow he needed, and having the exact three mana to cast it, he quickly tapped himself out and swept everything off of Brad's board.

Nelson had been a turn away from winning, and now, staring down two Sphinxes, it was all-but gone.

There were a couple spells mustered in the next couple turns, but nothing to overcome double prognostication.

Ivan Floch 2 – Brad Nelson 1

The aggro-on-control match-up has been played since time immemorial, but it's still difficult as heck, and real fun to watch. Control ended on top this time, but with a Rabble yell, the Goblins will rise again.

Ivan Floch – Blue-Black Control Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir

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Brad Nelson White-Red Tokens Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir

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